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John O’Donoghue


Served with MKLM: 2006 – 2023

Countries: East Timor, Kenya, Bolivia

Last Ministry Location: Cochabamba

Last Ministry: Missionaries of Charity, shelter for men

Ministry Area: Healthcare and health promotion, disability ministry

Goals of Ministry: To accompany men who are living with disabilities and help them rebuild their confidence and self-esteem; to bring a sense of hope back into their lives, and through exercises and physical therapy help them on the road to recovery.

Nonviolence Focus:

Prevention. My ministry is one of accompaniment, compassion and empathy. Daily I interact with men who are living with disabilities, engage in dialogue with them, and assist them with their exercises and physiotherapy needs. The patients feel valued, appreciated and know their well-being is a priority.

The Missionaries of Charity ensure that all patients are provided daily with food, clothing and shelter and basic medical care. Patients are strongly encouraged to assist one another. This approach has created an athmosphere of peace and nonviolence among our disabled community. Furthermore, in this safe shelter, the residents are protected from the violence of living on the street and in poverty situations.


Ministry Context:

Care of people with disabilities has to be viewed in a long-term context. During my time at the center, I have seen about 75 patients make a reasonable recovery and move on, but it took years of accompaniment, fulfillment of daily needs, and medical care along with spiritual nourishment.

All of our patients have been abandoned. A number of patients have died at the center – 12, during my time, and a number of others, due to the severity of their disablity, will remain at the center for a very long time.


Ministry Description:

John serves in a men’s HIV/AIDS Shelter with the late Mother (now St.) Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity. The patients at the shelter suffer from various ailments such as cancer, mental illness, HIV/AIDS; patients who have suffered from strokes; and patients who are amputees or have broken limbs as a result of work-related injuries or traffic accidents. A few patients are old and homeless.

Currently there are 19 patients at the shelter — all have been abandoned. John assists these patients daily as they go about their exercises in the sisters’ outdoor rehab center in the garden. He supervises them to make sure they don’t fall, and in addition he provides physical therapy to those patients who need it. He gives them their various medicines at the appointed hour and attends to their personal hygiene needs such as shaving, assisting with bathing and restroom needs and preparing patients for hospital visits. He also assists the staff in serving lunch to all the men, and arranges recreational games to help them relax. An important part of John’s work is to help the men “keep their spirits up.”


Personal Data:

John is originally from County Tipperary, Ireland. Before joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners, he lived in Norwood, Massachusetts, where he was a parishioner at St. Timothy Parish. He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, and a post-graduate diploma in development studies from Cambridge University in England. John worked in India, Sri Lanka, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria and Sudan with organizations such as the Missionaries of Charity, the U.S. Peace Corps, Save the Children, and the U.N. World Food Program.

John joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners at the age of 53. Before coming to Bolivia, he served in Aileu, East Timor; and Kitale, Kenya. At the St. Francis of Assisi Workshop in East Timor, he administered a program that made specialized shoes, hand-powered tricycles and wheelchairs for people living with disabilities. In Kenya, John served in the gender department of the Catholic Diocese of Kitale, where he worked with women’s groups and men’s groups on income generating projects and microfinancing to help alleviate poverty and increase a person’s self-reliance.

When he moved to Bolivia in 2015, he did not know that St. Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity worked in Cochabamba and other parts of the country. “But when I walked in their gate,” he remembers. “I felt right at home and knew that working with the Sisters would be a good fit for me as a Maryknoll lay missioner. Now I am still on the job, and as St. Teresa of Calcutta would say, ‘I am doing small things with great love.’ I had the great privilege of working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta in 1994.”